By Henry J. Raymond
ABRAHAM LINCOLN was elected to "be President of the United States on the sixth day of November, 1860. The preliminary canvass had not been marked by any very extraordinary features. Party lines were a good deal broken up, and four presidential candidates were in the field; but this departure from the ordinary course of party contests had occurred more than once in the previous political history of the country. Mr. Lincoln was put in nomination by the Republican party, and represented in his life and opinions the precise aim and object for which that party had been formed. He was a native of a slaveholding State; and while he had been opposed to slavery, he had regarded it as a local institution, the creature of local laws, with which the National Government of the United States had nothing whatever to do. But, in common with all observant public men, he had watched with distrust and apprehension the advance of slavery, as an element of political power, towards ascendency in the Government of the nation, and had cordially co-operated with those who thought it absolutely necessary for the future well-being of the country that this advance should be checked. He had, therefore, opposed very strenuously the extension of slavery into the Territories, and had asserted the right and the duty of Congress to exclude it by positive legislation there from.
The Chicago Convention, which nominated Mr. Lincoln, adopted a platform of which this was the cardinal feature; but it also took good care to repel the imputation of its political opponents, and to remove the apprehensions of the South, that the party proposed to interfere with slavery in the States whose laws gave it support and protection. It expressly disavowed all authority and all wish for such interference, and declared its purpose to protect the Southern States in the free enjoyment of all their constitutional rights. The Democratic Convention, originally assembled at Charleston, was disposed to make Mr. Douglas its candidate in opposition to Mr. Lincoln; but this purpose was thwarted by leading politicians of the slaveholding States, who procured the nomination of Mr. Breckinridge, with full knowledge of the fact that this would divide the Democratic party, and in all probability secure the election of Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Breckinridge represented the pro-slavery element of the Democratic party, and asserted the duty of the National Government, by a positive exercise of its legislative and executive power, to protect slavery in the Territories against any legislation either of Congress or of the people of the Territories themselves, which should seek to impair in any degree the right, alleged to be recognized in the Constitution, of property in slaves. Mr. Douglas supported the theory that the people of the Territories, acting through their territorial legislature, had the same right to decide this question for themselves as they had to decide any other; and he represented this principle in opposition to Mr. Lincoln on the one hand, and Mr. Breckinridge on the other, in the presidential canvass. John Bell, of Tennessee, was also made a candidate by the action mainly of men who were dissatisfied with all the existing political parties, and who were alarmed at the probable results of a presidential election which promised to be substantially sectional in its character. They put forth, therefore, no opinions upon the leading points in controversy; and went into the canvass with "the Constitution, the Union, and the enforcement of the laws" as their platform, one upon which they could easily have rallied all the people of all sections of the country, but for the fact, which they seemed to overlook, that the widest possible differences of opinion prevailed among the people as to its meaning.
All sections of the country took part in the election. The Southern States were quite as active and quite as zealous as the Northern in carrying on the canvass. Public meetings were held, the newspaper press, South as well as North, discussed the issues involved with energy and vigor, and every thing on the surface indicated the usual termination of the contest, the triumph of one party and the peaceful acquiescence of all others. The result, however, showed that this was a mistake. The active and controlling politicians of the Southern States had gone into the canvass with the distinct and well-formed purpose of acquiescing in the result only in the event of its giving them the victory. The election took place on the 6th of November. Mr. Lincoln received the electoral votes of all the Free States except New Jersey, which was divided, giving him four votes and Mr. Douglas three. Mr. Breckinridge received the electoral votes of all the Slave States except Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, which voted for Bell, and Missouri, which voted for Douglas, as did three electors from New Jersey also. Of the popular vote, Lincoln received 1,857,610; Douglas, 1,365,976; Breckinridge, 847,953; and Bell, 590,631. In the Electoral College, Lincoln received 180 votes, Douglas 12, Breckinridge 72, and Bell 39.
As soon as the result of the election was known, various movements in the Southern States indicated their purpose of resistance; and it soon became evident that this purpose had been long cherished- and that members of the Government under the presidency of Mr. Buchanan had officially given it their sanction and aid. On the 29th of October, General Scott sent to the President and John B. Floyd, his Secretary of War, a letter expressing apprehensions lest the Southern people should seize some of the Federal forts in the Southern States, and advising that they should be immediately garrisoned by way of precaution. The Secretary of War, according to statements subsequently made by one of his eulogists in Virginia, "thwarted, objected, resisted, and forbade" the adoption of those measures, which, according to the same authority, if carried into execution, would have defeated the conspiracy, and rendered impossible the formation of a Southern Confederacy. An official report from the Ordnance Department, dated January 16, 1861, also shows that during the year 1860, and previous to the presidential election, one hundred and fifteen thousand muskets had been removed from Northern armories and sent to Southern arsenals by a single order of the Secretary of War, issued on the 30th of December, 1859. On the 20th of November, the Attorney General, Hon. John S. Black, in reply to inquiries of the President, gave him the official opinion that Congress had no right to carry on war against any State, either to prevent a threatened violation of the Constitution or to enforce an acknowledgment that the Government of the United States is supreme: and it soon became evident that the President adopted this theory as the basis and guide of his executive action.
South Carolina took the lead in the secession movement. Her legislature assembled on the 4th of November, 1860, and, after casting the electoral vote of the State for John C. Breckinridge to be President of the United States, passed an act the next day calling a State Convention, to meet at Columbia on the 17th of December. On the 10th, F. W. Pickens was elected Governor, and, in his inaugural, declared the determination of the State to secede, on the ground that, ' ' in the recent election for President and Vice-President, the North had carried the election upon principles that make it no longer safe for us to rely upon the powers of the Federal Government or the guarantees of the Federal compact. This," he added, "is the great overt act of the people of the Northern States, who propose to inaugurate a chief magistrate not to preside over the common interests or destinies of all States alike, but upon issues of malignant hostility and uncompromising war to be waged upon the rights, the interests, and the peace of half of the States of this Union." The Convention met on the 17th of December, and adjourned the next day to Charleston, on account of the prevalence of smallpox at Columbia. On the 20th an ordinance was passed unanimously repealing the ordinance adopted May 23, 1788, whereby the Constitution of the United States was ratified, and " dissolving the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States under the name of the United States of America;" and on the 24th the Governor issued his proclamation, declaring the State of South Carolina to be a "separate, sovereign, free, and independent State."
This was the first act of secession passed by any State. The debates in the State Convention show clearly enough that it was not taken under the impulse of resentment for any sharp and remediless wrong, nor in apprehension that any such wrong would be inflicted; but in pursuance of a settled and long-cherished purpose. In that debate Mr. Parker said that the movement was "no spasmodic effort it had been gradually culminating for a long series of years." Mr. Inglis indorsed this remark, and added, "Most of us have had this matter under consideration for the last twenty years." Mr. L. M. Keitt said, "I have been engaged in this movement ever since I entered political life." And Mr. Rhett, who had been for many years in the public service, declared that "the secession of South Carolina was not the event of a day. It is not," said he, ' ' any thing produced by Mr. Lincoln' s election, or by the non-execution of the fugitive slave law. It is a matter which has been gathering head for thirty years. The election of Lincoln and Hamlin was the last straw on the back of the camel. But it was not the only one. The back was nearly broken before." So far as South Carolina was concerned, there can be no doubt that her action was decided by men who had been plotting disunion for thirty years, not on account of any wrongs her people had sustained at the hands of the Federal Government, but from motives of personal and sectional ambition, and for the purpose of establishing a government which should be permanently and completely in the interest of slavery.
But the disclosures which have since been made, imperfect comparatively as they are, prove clearly that the whole secession movement was in the hands of a few conspirators, who had their head-quarters at the national capital, and were themselves closely connected with the Government of the United States. A secret meeting of these men was held at Washington on the night of the 5th of January, 1861, at which the Senators from Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, and Florida were present. They decided, by resolutions, that each of the Southern States should secede from the Union as soon as possible; that a convention of seceding States should be held at Montgomery, Alabama, not later than the 15th of February; and that the Senators and Members of Congress from the Southern States ought to remain in their seats as long as possible, in order to defeat measures that might be proposed at Washington hostile to the secession movement. Davis of Mississippi, Slidell of Louisiana, and Mallory of Florida, were appointed a committee to carry these decisions into effect; and, in pursuance of them, Mississippi passed an ordinance of secession January 9th; Alabama and Florida, January 11th; Louisiana, January 26th, and Texas, February 5th. All these acts, as well as all which followed, were simply the execution of the behests of this secret conclave of conspirators who had resolved upon secession. In all the conventions of the seceding States, delegates were appointed to meet at Montgomery. In not one of them was the question of secession submitted to a vote of the people; although in some of them the legislatures had expressly forbidden them to pass any ordinance of secession without making its validity depend on its ratification by the popular vote. The Convention met at Montgomery on the 4th of February, and adopted a provisional constitution, to continue in operation for one year. Under this constitution Jefferson Davis was elected President of the new Confederacy, and Alex. H. Stephens, of Georgia, Vice-President. Both were inaugurated on the 18th. In an address delivered on his arrival at Montgomery, Mr. Davis declared that "the time for compromise has now passed, and the South is determined to maintain her position, and make all who oppose her smell Southern powder and feel Southern steel, if coercion is persisted in." He felt sure of the result; it might be they would "have to encounter inconveniences at the beginning," but he had no doubts of the final issue. The first part of his anticipation has been fully realized; the end has hardly proved to be as peaceful and satisfactory as he predicted.
The policy of the new Confederacy towards the United States was soon officially made known. The government decided to maintain the status quo until the expiration of Mr. Buchanan's term, feeling assured that, with his declared belief that it would be unconstitutional to coerce a State, they need apprehend from his administration no active hostility to their designs. They had some hope that, by the 4th of March, their new Confederacy would be so far advanced that the new Administration might waive its purpose of coercion; and they deemed it wise not to do any thing which should rashly forfeit the favor and support of "that very large portion of the North whose moral sense was on their side." Nevertheless, they entered upon prompt and active preparations for war. Contracts were made in various parts of the South for the manufacture of powder, shell, cannon-balls, and other munitions of war. Recruiting was set on foot in several of the States. A plan was adopted for the organization of a regular army of the Confederacy, and on the 6th of March Congress passed an act authorizing a military force of one hundred thousand men.
Thus was opened a new chapter in the history of America. Thus were taken the first steps towards overthrowing the Government and Constitution of the United States, and establishing a new nation, with a new Constitution, resting upon new principles, and aiming at new results The Constitution of the United States was ordained " in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity." We have the clear and explicit testimony of A. H. Stephens, the Vice President of the rebel Confederacy, echoing and reaffirming that of the whole civilized world to the fact, that these high and noble objects the noblest and the grandest at which human institutions can aim have been more nearly attained in the practical working of the Government of the United States than anywhere else on the face of the earth. "I look upon this country, with our institutions," said Mr. Stephens before the legislature of Georgia, on the 14th of November, 1860, after the result of the presidential election was known, " as the Eden of the world, the paradise 'of the universe. It may be that out of it we may become greater and more prosperous, but I am candid and sincere in telling you that I fear, if we rashly evince passion, and without sufficient cause shall take that step, that instead of becoming greater, or more peaceful, prosperous, and happy instead of becoming gods we will become demons, and at no distant day commence cutting each other's throats." Mr. Stephens on that occasion went on, in a strain of high patriotism and common sense, to speak of the proposed secession of the State of Georgia, in language which will forever stand as a judicial condemnation of the action of the rebel States. ' ' The first question that presents itself, ' ' said Mr. Stephens, "is, shall the people of the South secede from the Union in consequence of the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States? My countrymen, I tell you candidly, frankly, and earnestly, that I do not think that they ought. In my judgment the election of no man, constitutionally chosen to that high office, is sufficient cause for any State to separate from the Union. It ought to stand by and aid still in maintaining the Constitution of the country. To make a point of resistance to the government, to withdraw from it because a man has been constitutionally elected, puts us in the wrong. * * We went into the election with this people. The result was different from what we wished; but the election has been constitutionally held. Were we to make a point of resistance to the Government, and go out of the Union on this account, the record would be made up hereafter against us."
After the new confederacy had been organized, and Mr. Stephens had been elected its Vice-President, he made an elaborate speech to the citizens of Savannah, in which he endeavored to vindicate this attempt to establish a new government in place of the government of the United States, and to set forth the new principles upon which it was to rest, and which were to justify the movement in the eyes of the world and of impartial posterity. That exposition is too important to be omitted here. It is the most authoritative and explicit statement of the character and objects of the new government which has ever been made. Mr. Stephens said:
We have thus traced the course of events in the Southern States during the three months that succeeded the election of President Lincoln. Let us now see what took place in Washington during the same time. Congress met on the 3d of December, and the Message of President Buchanan was at once sent in. That document ascribed the discontent of the Southern States to the alleged fact that the violent agitation in the North against slavery had created disaffection among the slaves, and created apprehensions of servile insurrection. The President vindicated the hostile action of the South, assuming that it was prompted by these apprehensions; but went on to show that there was no right on the part of any State to secede from the Union, while at the same time he contended that the General Government had no right to make war on any State for the purpose of preventing it from seceding, and closed this portion of his Message by recommending an amendment of the Constitution which should explicitly recognize the right of property in slaves, and provide for the protection of that right in all the Territories of the United States. The belief that the people of South Carolina would make an attempt to seize one or more of the forts in the harbor of Charleston, created considerable uneasiness at Washington; and on the 9th of December the representatives from that State wrote to the President expressing their "strong convictions" that no such attempt would be made previous to the action of the State Convention, "provided that no re-enforcements should be sent into those forts, and their relative military status shall remain as at present." On the 10th of December Howell Cobb resigned his office as Secretary of the Treasury, and on the 14th General Cass resigned as Secretary of State. The latter resigned because the President refused to re-enforce the forts in the harbor of Charleston. On the 20th the State of South Carolina passed the ordinance of secession, and on the 26th Major Anderson transferred his garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sum ter. On the 29th John B. Floyd resigned his office as Secretary of War, alleging that the action of Major Anderson was in violation of pledges given by the Government that the military status of the forts at Charleston should remain unchanged, and that the President had declined to allow him to issue an order, for which he had applied on the 27th, to withdraw the garrison from the harbor of Charleston. On the 29th of December, Messrs. Barnwell, Adams, and Orr arrived at Washington, as commissioners from the State of South Carolina, and at once opened a correspondence with President Buchanan, asking for the delivery of the forts and other government property at Charleston to the authorities of South Carolina. The President replied on the 30th, reviewing the whole question stating that in removing from Fort Moultrie, Major Anderson acted solely on his own responsibility, and that his first impulse on hearing of it was to order him to return, but that the occupation of the fort by South Carolina and the seizure of the arsenal at Charleston had rendered this impossible. The commissioners replied on the 1st of January, 1861, insisting that the President had pledged himself to maintain the status of affairs in Charleston harbor previous to the removal of Major Anderson from Fort Moultrie, and calling on him to redeem this pledge. This communication the President returned.
On the 8th of January, the President sent a message to Congress, calling their attention to the condition of public affairs, declaring that while he had no right to make aggressive war upon any State, it was his right and his duty to "use military force defensively against those who resist the Federal officers in the execution of their legal functions, and against those who assail the property of the Federal Government;"--but throwing the whole responsibility of meeting the extraordinary emergencies of the occasion upon Congress. On the same day, Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, resigned his office as Secretary of the Interior, because the Star of the West had been sent on the 5th, by order of the Government, with supplies for Fort Sumter, in violation, as he alleged, of the decision of the cabinet. On the 10th, P. F. Thomas, of Maryland, who had replaced Howell Cobb as Secretary of the Treasury, resigned, and was succeeded by General John A Dix, of New York.
The debates and the action of Congress throughout the session related mainly to the questions at issue between the two sections. The. discussion opened on the 3d of December, as soon as the President' s Message had been read. The Southern Senators generally treated the election of the previous November as having been a virtual decision against the equality and rights of the slaveholding States. The Republican members disavowed this construction, and proclaimed their willingness to adopt any just and proper measures which would quiet the apprehensions of the South, while they insisted that the authority of the Constitution should be maintained, and the constitutional election of a President should be respected. At the opening of the session, Mr. Powell, of Kentucky, in the Senate, moved the reference of that portion of the President's Message which related to the sectional difficulties of the country, to a select committee of thirteen. This resolution being adopted, Mr. Crittenden immediately afterwards introduced a series of joint resolutions, embodying what came to be known afterwards as the Crittenden Compromise proposing to submit to the action of the people of the several States the following amendments to the Constitution:
Besides these proposed amendments of the Constitution, Mr. Crittenden's resolutions embodied certain declarations in affirmance of the constitutionality and "binding force of the fugitive slave law recommending the repeal by the States of all bills, the effect of which was to hinder the execution of that law, proposing to amend it by equalizing its fees, and urging the effectual execution of the law for the suppression of the African slave-trade.
These resolutions were referred to the Committee of Thirteen, ordered on Mr. Powell's motion, and composed of the following senators:
On the 31st of December, this committee reported that they " had riot been able to agree upon any general plan of adjustment." The whole subject was nevertheless discussed over and over again during the residue of the session; but no final action was taken until the very day of its close. On the 21st of January, Messrs. Yulee and Mallory, of Florida, resigned their seats in the Senate, because their State had passed an ordinance of secession; and on the 28th, Mr. Iverson, of Georgia, followed their example. Messrs. Clay and Fitzpatrick, of Alabama, and Mr. Davis, of Mississippi, followed next, and, on the 4th of February, Messrs. Slidell and Benjamin, of Louisiana, also took their leave.
In the House of Representatives the debates took the same general direction as in the Senate. On the first day of the session a resolution was adopted, by a vote of one hundred and forty-five to thirty-eight, to refer so much of the President' s Message as related to the perilous condition of the country, to a committee of one from each State. This committee was appointed as follows:
A great variety of resolutions were offered and referred to this committee. In a few days the committee reported the following series of resolutions, and recommended their adoption:
These resolutions were intended and admirably calculated to calm the apprehensions of the people of the slaveholding States as to any disposition on the part of the Federal Government to interfere with slavery, or withhold from them any of their constitutional rights; and in a House controlled by a large Republican majority, they were adopted by a vote of ayes one hundred and thirty-six, noes fifty-three. Not content with this effort to satisfy all just complaints on the part of the Southern States, the same committed reported the following resolution, recommending such an amendment of the Constitution as should put it forever out of the power of the government or people of the United States to interfere with slavery in any of the States:
This resolution was adopted by a vote of one hundred and thirty-three to sixty-five more than two-thirds in its favor. This closed the action of the House of Representatives at this session on this important subject, though it had previously adopted, by a unanimous vote, the following declaratory resolution:
The action of the Senate was somewhat modified by the intervening action of a Peace Conference, which assembled at Washington on the 4th of February, in pursuance of a recommendation of the State of Virginia, embodied in resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of that State on the 19th of January. It consisted of delegates, one hundred and thirty-three in number, from twenty-one States none of those which had seceded being represented. John Tyler, of Virginia, was appointed president, and a committee, consisting of one from each State, was appointed, with authority to "report what they may deem right, necessary, and proper, to restore harmony and preserve the Union." On the 15th. of February the committee reported a series of resolutions, in seven sections, which were discussed and amended, one "by one, until the afternoon of the 26th, when the vote was taken upon them as amended, in succession, with the following results:
In the Senate, on the 2d day of March, a communication was received from the President of the Peace Congress, communicating the resolutions thus adopted in that body. They were at once referred to a committee consisting of Messrs. Crittenden, Bigler, Thomson, Seward, and Trumbull. The next day they were reported to the Senate for its adoption, Messrs. Seward and Trumbull, the minority of the Committee, dissenting from the majority, and proposing the adoption of a resolution calling on the legislatures of the States to express their will in regard to calling a Convention for amending the Constitution.
The question then came up on adopting the resolutions of the Peace Conference. Mr. Hunter, of Virginia, moved to substitute the first of Mr. Crittenden' s resolutions for the first of those reported by the committee. Mr. Crittenden opposed it, and urged the adoption of the propositions of the Peace Conference in preference to his own. Mr. Mason, of Virginia, opposed the resolutions of the Peace Conference, on the ground that it would not satisfy the South. Mr. Baker, of Oregon, advocated it. Mr. Green, of Missouri, opposed it, as surrendering every Southern principle, in which he was seconded by Mr. Lane, of Oregon.
At this stage of the proceedings, Mr. Douglas gave a new turn to the form of the proceedings of the Senate, by moving to take up the resolution adopted by the House to amend the Constitution so as to prohibit forever any interference with slavery in the States. This motion was carried. Mr. Pugh moved to amend by substituting for this resolution the resolutions of Mr. Crittenden. This was rejected ayes 14, noes 25. Mr. Brigham, of Michigan, next moved to substitute a resolution against any amendment of the Constitution, and in favor of enforcing the laws. This was rejected ayes 13, noes 25. Mr. Grimes, of Iowa, then moved to substitute the resolution of Messrs. Seward and Trumbull, as the minority of the Select Committee, calling on the State Legislatures to express their will in regard to calling a Convention to amend the Constitution. This was rejected ayes 14, noes 25. The propositions of the Peace Conference were then moved by Mr. Johnson, of Arkansas, and rejected ayes 3, noes 34. Mr. Crittenden' s resolutions were then taken up, and lost by the following vote:
The resolutions were thus lost, in consequence of the withdrawal of Senators from the disaffected States. The question was then taken on the House resolution to amend the Constitution so as to prohibit forever any amendment of the Constitution interfering with slavery in any State, and the resolution was adopted by a two-thirds vote ayes 24, nays 12.
This closed the action of Congress upon this important subject. It was strongly Republican in both branches, yet it had done every thing consistent with its sense of justice and fidelity to the Constitution to disarm the apprehensions of the Southern States, and to remove all provocation for their resistance to the incoming Administration. It had given the strongest possible pledge that it had no intention of interfering with slavery in any State, by amending the Constitution so as to make such interference forever impossible. It created governments for three new Territories, Nevada, Dakotah, and Colorado, and passed no law excluding slavery from any one of them. It had severely censured the legislation of some of the Northern States intended to hinder the recovery of fugitives from labor; and in response to its expressed wishes, Rhode Island repealed its laws of that character, and Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin had the subject under consideration, and were ready to take similar action. Yet all this had no effect whatever in changing or checking the secession movement in the Southern States.